retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

•  The World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday said that the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak can officially be labeled a pandemic.

A pandemic, the WHO says, happens when a "virus emerges and spreads around the world, and most people do not have immunity."

WHO director Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says that this move "does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this coronavirus. It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do."

Good to have clarity.  I was getting tired of writing "outbreak/epidemic/pandemic" every time I referred to the coronavirus.

•  From this morning's Washington Post:

"The coronavirus outbreak is taking a deep toll on the U.S. economy, prompting hundreds of layoffs over the past week alone and halting a historic 11-year bull market in stocks.

Strong job growth and soaring financial markets have fueled the U.S. economic expansion over the past decade. Now the rapid market decline and initial layoffs are heightening fears that the longest economic expansion in U.S. history could come to a sudden end, just a month after unemployment stood at a half-century low.

"The Dow Jones industrial average lost 1,465 points, or 5.9 percent, Wednesday with every sector slumping after the World Health Organization designated the coronavirus a pandemic. The Dow closed in bear market territory, meaning it had shed more than 20 percent from its high less than a month ago.

"Airlines, hotels, travel agencies and event companies have all been suffering, but interviews with more than two dozen firms and workers reveal that the pain is now translating into layoffs in a wider circle of industries … Economists fear more layoffs in the coming weeks as supply chains come to a halt and people stay home and spend less."

•  From the New York Times:

"President Trump said on Wednesday night that he was suspending most travel from Europe to the United States for 30 days, beginning on Friday, to stem the spread of the coronavirus. The restrictions do not apply to Britain, he said.

"Mr. Trump imposed a 30-day ban on foreigners who in the previous two weeks have been in the 26 countries that make up the European Union’s Schengen Area. The limits, which take effect on Friday at midnight, will exempt American citizens and permanent legal residents and their families, although they could be funneled to certain airports for enhanced screening.

"Later on Wednesday, the State Department issued an advisory telling Americans to 'reconsider travel' to all countries because of the global effects of the coronavirus. It is the department’s second-strongest advisory, behind 'do not travel'."

•  The Financial Times reports that the Italian government has ordered the closure of virtually every retailer in the country, with the exception of supermarkets and pharmacies, in what is seen as "a further extension of stringent measures to contain the country’s coronavirus outbreak."

Some businesses will be allowed to stay open, "including factories and agriculture, as well as the public sector and transport … banks and tobacconists."

FT writes that "the extension of nationwide lockdown measures came after officials said the country’s total infections increased to 12,462, up from 10,149 on Tuesday, at a time when its health service is coming under pressure to cope with the rising numbers needing intensive care. Officials said 10,590 are currently sick, 1,028 are in intensive care, and 1,045 have recovered from the virus."

I heard an expert say on the news last night that if the US does not get its act together fast and radically improve access to testing, we're just two weeks away from being Italy.  The argument is that the US has no idea how many people might be sick because so few people are being tested.

This could've been hyperbole.  But somehow, it didn't seem like it.  And I am finding increasingly difficult to be panglossian about any of this.

•  MarketWatch reports that "a Walmart Inc. associate in Kentucky has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, the company said Wednesday while announcing potential store-hour restrictions at 24-hour locations even though traffic is rising.

"Walmart said its stores are cleaned daily, including sanitizing high-touch areas and assigning one associate who is responsible for key areas throughout the day.  The company is also looking into ways to more easily sanitize shopping carts and exploring the possibility of shutting its 24-hour locations to make time for additional cleaning."

•  CNBC  reports that Starbucks "is offering 'catastrophe pay' to U.S. baristas who have been exposed to the coronavirus."

According to the story, Starbucks "will pay employees for up to 14 days if they have been diagnosed with, exposed to or in close contact with someone with the coronavirus.  Workers who may be considered higher risk because of underlying health conditions are also eligible for catastrophe pay with a doctor’s note."

Starbucks already has implemented this policy in China.

•  WSB-TV News reports that "the demand for disinfectants due to the outbreak of COVID-19, the coronavirus, has sparked an uptick in production for the Clorox plant in Clayton County.  The company says the new demand for its products has employees working around the clock to keep up."

Make it faster.  Please.

•  From Bloomberg, a report suggesting that China is beginning to recover from its coronavirus woes:

"Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s parcel and meal delivery arms have returned to pre-coronavirus outbreak staffing levels, the latest example of how China’s largest corporations are getting back to work after Beijing’s entreaty to safeguard economic growth.

"Cainiao, of which Alibaba owns more than 60%, is again at full strength after a few weeks during which the epidemic disrupted transport and held up shipments. Meal delivery unit and grocery chain Freshippo are also back at full strength and operating at 'full capabilities' at present, an Alibaba spokeswoman said.

"That recovery underscores how the world’s No. 2 economy is slowly getting up to speed after Covid-19 confined millions to their homes and paralyzed roads and rail nationwide. Cainiao, the company at the heart of Alibaba’s e-commerce business, oversees a network of millions of delivery people that can handle upwards of a billion packages daily at their peak."

It is critical that we as a society take the coronavirus pandemic seriously - but it also is important to recognize that there is a light, however distant, at the end of the tunnel.  How long it takes us to get through the tunnel, however, depends on the degree of seriousness and alacrity of action that we bring to the situation.  People and institutions in denial, for whatever reason, do themselves and the culture no favors.

•  The New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade, scheduled for next Tuesday, has been postponed for the first time in its 258-year history.

Chicago, Cincinnati and Kansas City are among the other cities that have cancelled or postponed their St. Patrick's Day parades.

•  The NCAA announced last night that its annual men's and women's college basketball tournaments - known as March Madness - will be played in athletic facilities without the presence of spectators.

NCAA President Mark Emmert wrote:  

"The NCAA continues to assess the impact of COVID-19 in consultation with public health officials and our COVID-19 advisory panel. Based on their advice and my discussions with the NCAA Board of Governors, I have made the decision to conduct our upcoming championship events, including the Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, with only essential staff and limited family attendance … This decision is in the best interest of public health, including that of coaches, administrators, fans and, most importantly, our student-athletes. We recognize the opportunity to compete in an NCAA national championship is an experience of a lifetime for the students and their families. Today, we will move forward and conduct championships consistent with the current information and will continue to monitor and make adjustments as needed."

•  The National Basketball Association (NBA) last night canceled all games for the foreseeable future after, as Axios reports, a Utah Jazz player tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus.

•  Variety reports that late night television talk and comedy shows will start being taped without their usual studio audiences, a decision made by various networks "amid rising fears about the spread of coronavirus."

The shows affected include CBS’ “Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” NBC’s “Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, TBS’ “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” and Fox News Channel’s “The Greg Gutfeld Show."

All the shows affected are taped in New York City.  Late night shows produced in Los Angeles, such as CBS’ “The Late Late Show with James Corden”and HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher," are for the moment not affected.

No word yet on whether "Saturday Night Live," scheduled to return with a new episode on March 28, will adopt the same policy.

•  It got a lot of attention last night because it put a recognizable face on the pandemic:  actor/writer/director/producer/national treasure Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, both have been diagnosed has having the COVID-19 coronavirus.

They were diagnosed while in Australia for a film project, and have been hospitalized and put in isolation.

The point that a lot of folks were making yesterday is that it was very easy to be diagnosed in Australia because testing is free and available.  They didn't feel well, and they got tested.